Last week’s talks between Fatah and Hamas for a unity government have encouraged mild optimism among Palestinians that this time negotiations could succeed.
In spite of the positive tone of the statement released after the meeting in Cairo on October 10, there are still a number of difficult issues to negotiate which could impede the success of the reconciliation efforts. The two parties still have to resolve who will control Gaza in the future, what will become of Hamas’ military wing, and what will happen with Gaza’s government employees.
Hamas took over Gaza in 2007 after clashing with and expelling Fatah, which refused to recognise its victory in the 2006 elections. Subsequently, Hamas had to set up its own mechanisms and bodies to administer the Gaza Strip.
Currently, Hamas dominates every aspect of life in Gaza. It controls education, administers healthcare provision and hospitals, collects taxes from businesses and households, provides security and manages the border crossings with Egypt and Israel.
But what will happen if and when the Palestinian minister of interior arrives in Gaza to put in place the same security coordination with Israel that is currently in place in the West Bank?
In other words, over the past 10 years, Hamas has set up a full-blown state apparatus, separate from the Palestinian Authority (PA). So what will happen to all its institutions? Will they disappear overnight, to be replaced by authorities reporting to the head of the PA in Ramallah? Will the disbanding be dealt with on one front at a time or will there be a wholesale handover of control over Gaza? What will happen to Hamas loyalists within these institutions?
It is clear that the lack of a detailed vision of how to proceed with the unification will create chaos and piecemeal attempts to deal with individual issues. Without a structure agreed upon by the heads of both sides, unification attempts can easily fail.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said more than once that the end goal of reconciliation is to establish the PA’s full administrative control over Gaza. In early October he declared that in the Palestinian lands there needs to be “one power, one law, and one security”.
In addition, the fact that the US, Israel and regional powers have removed their objections to this reconciliation – each for their own reasons – should not be taken to mean that they will be silent indefinitely about the arms stockpiles in Gaza. The weapons belong to various arms of the resistance, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Popular Resistance Committees.
Hamas for its part has announced, and continues to affirm, that the future of its armed wing is not subject to the reconciliation negotiations and that it will not accept sacrificing it in order to consolidate the reconciliation government in Gaza. This was among a number of other statements Hamas made aiming to reassure its cadres, who have sacrificed a great deal to stockpile these weapons.
Recognising how problematic this issue is for Hamas, the PA and the Egyptians – the sponsors of the reconciliation – have hinted that they will leave the discussion of this matter to a later stage of the negotiations for fear of creating an unnecessary stalemate.
But what will happen if and when the Palestinian minister of interior arrives in Gaza to put in place the same security coordination with Israel that is currently in place in the West Bank? Will Hamas allow that to happen?
The security coordination that the PA would like to transfer to Gaza to establish its government there may mean that Israeli military vehicles would enter the Strip, even if only on the periphery. And it would mean that Palestinian security would have to inform its Israeli counterparts of any breaches of border security. Israeli security would inform its Palestinian counterpart of any workshops manufacturing weapons in Gaza, which would have to be broken up and their members arrested.
All these foreseen and unforeseen events are nightmare scenarios for Hamas. Is the movement prepared for them or is it hoping to postpone them indefinitely?
If indeed the PA takes over security provision in Gaza, it will also take accountability from Hamas for Israeli incursions on Gaza’s border, Israeli air attacks, and the harassment of Gaza fishermen by the Israeli navy. For a long time these issues were an embarrassment to Hamas because it wasn’t able to deal with them, which was causing growing dissatisfaction among Gaza’s residents with their leadership.
The final issue that could potentially derail the unity deal is the fate of almost 50,000 employees within the Hamas-dominated institutions in Gaza. These people support an estimated quarter of a million family members in Gaza. They are the ones who shouldered the burden of administering Gaza’s affairs over the past 10 years and will be hostile to any tampering with their employee rights or reduction of their financial and administrative entitlements.
Hamas has been adamant during previous negotiations that job security be guaranteed for these employees, and that they be treated as equals to PA employees. It is well known that a number of previous reconciliation and negotiation efforts have come up against the PA refusing to recognise these employees.
There have been rumours that there are committees being formed to look into the matter of these employees and to set the government’s priorities vis-a-vis its need for them. It is unclear, however, whether job security is indeed something it is considering.
So who will be the guarantor for the employees of Gaza, and who will pay their salaries if a settlement of their status is agreed upon?
The reality on the ground requires that compromises be presented and that both sides are serious enough to forego party interests and organisational considerations in order to achieve a Palestinian national project, that will not succeed as long as the spectre of division haunts it.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article contained an incorrect statement that the school curriculum in Gaza and the West Bank are different. It has been deleted.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.